#Toastmasters — The Road Towards Competent Communication (part 1—Introduction)

Yesterday was a significant day for me for two reasons: first of all, it was my birthday. (And there was much rejoicing: yay!) Second of all, I received word from Toastmasters International that I have been granted the Competent Communicator award for having completed 10 speeches.

For those of you who may be interested in Toastmasters, I wanted to write a series of posts that may help explore how Toastmaster may be of benefit to you by showing how it has been a positive influence on me.

1. Introduction to Toastmasters

The first person who told me about Toastmasters was my aunt Mary Hose, my father’s older sister. She was a bank manager in St. Louis in the 70s and 80s. When she was promoted from being a teller to being part of management, she noticed that many of her male colleagues belonged to a club devoted to public speaking called Toastmasters.

She asked if she could join and her question was met by, well I was going to say “howls of derisive laughter”, but that’s perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. However, one comment she received was particularly memorable for being offensive: “honey, that’s where we go to get away from our secretaries and our wives!”

A secretary in the office overheard that remark and gestured for Mary to talk to her. “There’s a public speaking club just for women that you may be interested in,” she said in a hushed voice reminiscent of Yoda when he said to Luke “there is … another … Sky … Walk … urgh!” Mary’s disappointment of not being able to join Toastmasters was quelled by her quest to follow this new lead she had been given.

She was put in contact with a parallel group that had formed by professional women who had been excluded from Toastmasters, and they called it Toastmistresses. Imagine the smile on Mary’s face when she was introduced to the local club president, who told her “this is where we go to get away from our bosses and our husbands!”

About five years later, Toastmasters was made co-ed, and she continued to be a member of the newly-expanded organization for the next few decades. She said it gave her confidence to be a woman manager in a mostly male-dominated field at that time. Joining Toastmasters was always on my Someday Isle task list, as in, “someday I’ll …”  But I always felt too busy to join a professional organization that didn’t seem directly related to my job, so I didn’t pursue the matter.

When I was in transition after working for an insurance company, I joined a professional networking group called Experience Unlimited.  Two members of the group had joined Toastmasters and asked if I was interested. Now it was my turn to increase my self-confidence, albeit for different reasons that my aunt Mary had had. If it helped her confidence, maybe it could help mine at a time I really needed it.  And the two members confirmed that it was helpful to them in gaining confidence during job interviews, so I decided to go to one of their meetings.

My first impression was that it was well-organized and professionally run, a swiftly and deftly-moving piece of human clockwork. An additional impression I had was that it was supportive: all suggestions for improvements that came from the people I later learned were called “evaluators” was done with an underlying tone of encouragement rather than approbation. And finally, it was fun! There were many moments of laughter, not just scripted ones from remarks done in prepared speeches, but by people who got up to speak spontaneously during various portions of the meeting.

Well, this is definitely a group I want to be part of, I thought, and I joined right then and there.   The two members who introduced me to the club have since gone on to get employed in the field of project management, something which I am aspiring to enter now.  This series of posts is dedicated to them and to my Aunt Mary, because the three of them together were responsible for giving me that push towards joining Toastmasters.

I on the other hand have introduced several other people in Experience Unlimited to Toastmasters, and am happy to say that two of them ended up joining our club. One dropped out of the club because our meeting night conflicted with a certification class he was taking; the second just joined and I have hopes for his becoming an active member of the club.

In the next post I want to talk about the two educational tracks of professional development that Toastmasters provides, the communication track and the leadership track.

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